Oil Creek meets the Little Kanawha River at Burnsville. Oil Creek floods can be impressive, but nothing like the floods on the river it flows into. The Burnsville dam built by the Army Corps of Engineers has been mentioned in regard to the creation of Burnsville Lake, but its importance in flood control has been overlooked.
Following is a story of just one of the many floods that were a part of life in Burnsville and other towns on the rivers that drain West Virginia before dams. Many thanks to Pat Ridpath who published this in here e-column, Pat's Chat
“A story of desperate, middle-of-the-night rescue work and of terrible devastation to crops and property was brought to Clarksburg last night by one of the first persons to leave Burnsville in the heart of the flood-stricken Central West Virginia region.
“The messenger is Claude R. Linger, a traveling salesman who himself helped to rescue the 85-year-old mayor of Burnsville , M. W. ‘Uncle Matt’ Hefner, and several other persons from the inundated Hefner addition to Burnsville .
“Working in pitch-dark, for all utilities had already gone out, he drove to safety the wife and children of Carlin Sizemore, who works in Charleston .
“Then he went back to bring out a second carload. This time, he had just gotten Mayor Hefner and two small daughters of O. K. McNemar, clerk of the ration board, into his car, when the rapidly rising waters came to the car doors and the machine started to float.
“Shouting for help, Linger said he struggled to get the car doors open in order to get his three passengers out again and to safety.
“C. L. Stilwell and Marvin Mealey, he went on, came to their rescue and with Stilwell carrying Mayor Hefner and the other men carrying the children, they started up the street toward higher ground.
“The entire procession, Linger said, almost drowned. Mayor Hefner had on rubber boots which filled with water and almost carried him and Stilwell under. Both Stilwell and Mealey went in over their heads before they staggered to safety with their human burdens.
“Linger, who says he can’t swim a bit, went in up to his chin and was practically exhausted when a Mr. Hamilton, a Hope Natural Gas Company employee, came up to relieve him of the child he was carrying.
“With the water now rising 12 feet an hour or faster, it was impossible to get back across the bridge to the higher section of town, and Linger didn’t get home until about noon Thursday when he crossed back by boat. He had left his truck sitting in front of his house and both it and his car, in Hefner addition, were badly damaged by being under water for 24 hours.
“Yesterday Linger was able to get a truck to bring his car to Clarksburg for overhauling.
“The last person saved in the 1:30 a.m. rescue operations, Linger declared, was Mrs. Raymond Taylor, whose husband is in the Army. The water was rising in her house when she was taken out by a group of women who sawed off some garage doors and tore a clothes line off a porch to make a raft. But just as they completed the raft, one of the only three boats available in the town that night came by and took them to safety.
“When Linger returned home by boat about noon Thursday, he was riding over telephone wires, which gives some idea of the extent to which the waters had risen.
“One of the hardiest of the flood victims was a dog owned by Victor Hyre, which swam around in the high waters all night and until the next afternoon, now and again temporarily perching on some obstacle, but soon being carried out into the water again.
“A Mrs. Smith and her son and daughter-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. Grover Bragg, were sleeping through the flood until someone woke them by throwing rocks onto their house. When they opened the front door to find out what was going on, the water burst in and filled the house up to the second floor landing. And there they stayed, stranded on the second floor, until the water went down
“Linger said the crop damage in Braxton County, where an unusually large amount of garden stuff was being grown this season, was huge. And at Burnsville , the loss of furniture and canned goods, the damage to buildings and cars and store stocks, was equally great.
“Many Burnsville people, Linger explained, are working in war plants and had their furniture, much of it new, stored at home.
“At Coger, Linger said, the water was high over a swinging footbridge between the post office and the railroad station. Cogar Maulsby, postmaster and storekeeper at Coger, lost two-thirds of his stock. Among the few things he saved was a new shipment of shoes, which was still unpacked. Linger estimated his loss at several thousands of dollars.
“The Burnsville postmaster, Virgil Knight, who lives four to six miles from town, saw the flood coming and hurried to town to remove all the first-class mail. The water was up to his chest as he made the last trip from the post office.
“The water almost reached the top of Burnsville ’s theater, but Linger said the theater-owner has promised a show tonight.”
"Thankfully, the new dams have made such terrible floods a thing of the past, but disasters can happen anywhere. Such tragedies seem to create heroes who forget self and go above and beyond the call of duty to help others."
Lower left photo: Burnsville dam, constructed in the 1970s/'80s.
- David Parmer
"... By the way, Victor Hyre's dog survived after swimming all night. His name was "Scruff', I used to play with that dog."